Poll Results Show a Majority Support Prioritizing Efforts to Diversify Teacher Corps Over Seniority Protections Across the Commonwealth


June 26, 2023


Contact: Abby Silverman, 978-273-3875

Education Committee to hear testimony on bills to encourage teacher diversity today.

BOSTON, MA (June 26, 2023): A new poll, released today by Education Reform Now Massachusetts (ERN MA), an  affiliate of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), shows that a majority of registered voters in Boston and across the Commonwealth favor increasing teacher diversity even if that means weakening seniority rules.

Current state law prioritizes retaining teachers with “professional teacher status” during layoffs, which would disproportionately affect teachers of color, who are more likely to be earlier in their teaching career than their white counterparts as a result of recent efforts to diversify the teacher workforce. The Joint Committee on Education is holding a hearing this afternoon on bills, ​​including H.549/ S.311, which would create ways to diversify the teacher pipeline in the Commonwealth, and H.583/S.340, which calls for school districts to consider measures beyond seniority in the event of layoffs.

The poll, which was conducted by The MassINC Polling Group and sponsored by ERN MA, asked Massachusetts voters if they would support or oppose changing seniority rules to help keep highly qualified teachers from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. 51% of Massachusetts voters and 62% of Boston voters said yes, while 38% of Massachusetts voters and 26% of Boston voters said no. Statewide, Democrats (65%-25%) and Independents (50%-38%) strongly supported this idea, while Republicans (13%-79%) opposed it. Support for this question was also stronger among non-White voters (58%-31%) than White voters (50%-39%).

Support was also strong when voters were asked if they would support changing seniority rules to keep educators who are bilingual – 60% of Massachusetts voters and 67% of Boston voters said yes, while 32% of Massachusetts voters and 22% of Boston voters said no. Again, support statewide was far stronger among Democrats (77%-16%) and Independents (56%-35%) than Republicans (31%-63%). Support was strong among White (60%-32%) and non-White (64%-26%) voters.

The poll also included questions gauging baseline support for both seniority and increasing diversity, and showed more mixed results for seniority.

Asked how much of a factor seniority should be in determining teacher layoffs, 47% of registered voters statewide said “the most important” or a “major” factor, while 49% said it should be a “minor” factor or “no factor at all.” Support was stronger among registered voters in Boston where 63% said it should be “the most important” or a “major” factor, while 33% said it should be a “minor” factor or “no factor at all.”

When asked: “How much would you support or oppose prioritizing efforts to diversify the teacher ranks across Massachusetts,” 51% of registered voters statewide and 71% in Boston said they “strongly” or somewhat” support those efforts, while 41% statewide and 22% in Boston “somewhat” or “strongly” opposed those efforts.

“These poll results show that Massachusetts voters want a commitment not just to diversifying the teaching corps, but keeping those teachers employed,” said Mary Tamer, Executive Director of DFER MA. “With the threat of layoffs looming, the legislature should work with the teachers unions, school districts, and school committees to find ways to ensure the gains made over the past few years in diversifying the teachers in our children’s classrooms doesn’t get wiped out.”

Data released in 2023 by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) showed that students identifying as African-American or Hispanic makeup 33.6% of the student population. But other DESE data shows only 7.2% of teachers identified as African-American or Hispanic and 90.4% of the teaching force in the Commonwealth identify as White.

Factors including financial barriers to higher education and educator preparation programs, challenges navigating the state’s licensure system and limited public accountability of school and district efforts to recruit, support, and retain educators of color have all contributed to this gap in representation. Research shows that access to teachers of color has great benefits for students, particularly Black and Latino students.